The Roots of All Our Troubles!?

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Most of my distress and emotional pain in recovery comes from wanting stuff, and not getting my way or not accepting things as they are.

As Bill Wilson noted, we seem to get distressed when we don’t get what we want or feel people or trying to take away what we have.

This was his observation after a decade of psycho analysis with the psycho analyst Harry Tiebout.

A decade of therapy also showed Bill Wilson he has two default settings in his relationship to other human beings – he either tried to dominate them or he became dependent on them for his sense of self and emotional well being. In other words, he became dependent on others, on external means for approval and elevating his self esteem.

This is similar to relying on external means, i.e. alcohol, drugs, addictive behaviours to regulate our emotions and bolster our low self esteem.

We are in a sense co-dependent on other people for our sense of esteem.  We rely on others in terms of how we feel about ourselves.

As a result we are guarded against those that we perceive will reject us or be negative to us, harm us in some way and we seek to dominate these folk or we are dependent on those who are kind to us, help us and care for us. We swing at times between these extremes.

Some of us are “people pleasers”, some of us are dismissive towards others. I can be a dismissive person more than a people pleaser. It is all manipulating our interaction with others to our selfish ends.

Some of these tendencies are the result of our childhoods and how closely attached we were to our parents.

Some of us have this knawing feeling of not being good enough, have a hole in the soul which we are/were kinda always unconsciously trying to protect, shield from the world.

It is a strange feeling of not wanting to be found out of being less than, not good enough. “If people realise what the real me is like, they will reject me!” type thinking although a lot of this is unconscious and does not pop in to our minds as thoughts but is an unconscious self schema that shapes our behaviours.

In simple terms we manipulate via people pleasing or we push people away via being dismissive and putting others down, we guard against any threat of perceived rejection or threats to the self via defense mechanisms such as projecting what we do not like about ourselves on to others.

We often do not like traits in others because they somehow mirror traits in ourselves although we are not always conscious of this.

We have difficulties in our relationships with others, these relationships are often unhealthy and ill.

Some of this is touched on in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but much of it comes from later observations by Bill Wilson after the publication of the Big Book and my and others’ observations since.

I have seen in myself how fear and shame seem to drive most of my maladaptive behaviour.

My illness of addictive behaviours.

I have an illness of chronic malcontent, things are rarely good enough and I am rarely good enough, according to my “out of kilter”  thinking which  I usually try to ignore, turn over to God or on occasion challenge via reasoning and sharing with other people.

My thoughts are often not my friends, they are often not in the service of my ongoing well being, quite the opposite in fact.

This is how a mental health disorder manifests itself as distorted fear based thinking which appear, if acted upon, to make one’s situation a whole lot worse.

We can not rely on our thoughts and feelings or, in other words, our Self Will. Our self will has become impaired and is no longer in the service of our successful survival.

I have found over the last decade in recovery that when I turn my Will over to the care of the God of my understanding that I am restored to sanity and my thoughts are sound, they are on a higher plane as the Big Book tells me.

I can become the fullest expression of me in the God, not the ill, deluded version while running under my own self will. That has been my experience.

It is only with God’s help that I get restored to sanity or reasonableness.

When I have a fear of not getting stuff and this is linked to insecurity, as mentioned in the Big Book, it is usually in relation to my pocket book, financial insecurity, personal relationships, self esteem etc.

I will now look at this fear based reaction to my security which is mainly to do with stuff out  there (external) such as work, people and how they affect my sense of self before looking at how my internal sense of self, based on the fear based emotion of shame seems to play a pivotal role in my relationship with others and the world around me.

I am assailed externally by fear of what other’s think about me and internally about what I think of me – when these two line up it can have a powerful and damaging effect on my psyche.

Desiring stuff seems at the root of my fear based stuff – the exquisite torture of desire which soon loses it’s so-called relish and just becomes torturous.

Alcoholics do not seem want stuff like normal folk, but have a pathological wanting, an all consuming need to get stuff regardless of it’s worth or value.

We seem to compulsively seek to relieve an inherent distress of not having what we set out to get. Our decision making seems fueled at times by this need to relieve distress rather than the intrinsic value of what we are seeking.

We seem to become manic in our pursuit of things and end up overdoing whatever we are doing via this stress-based manic activity.

This seems compounded by not always being able to read our emotions or somatic states.

One of my own difficulties is realising I am hungry or tired and I can often end up exhausted by over-doing stuff especially manual work around my house. My stop button broke a long time a ago and probably did not work very well to begin with.

So we have  stress-based compulsive need to do something and very limited brakes in the brain stopping us and very little emotional feedback going on, a limited consideration of  “aren’t we overdoing this a bit?”

Desire obviously runs contrary to the idea of being in God’s will, in fact it is being in Self Will that seems to create distress in many people with addictive behaviours.

I would add to this that I also get distress via fears of rejection from others, I suffer from fear based shame to a chronic extent.

Shame, also the consequence of being in Self Will, was not really mentioned in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, mainly because it was not really known about as a psychological or psycho-therapeutic concept then.

Much of the Big Book was influenced by  psycho-analysis which did not consider shame, but rather guilt, in psychological disturbance.

In fact, it has only started considering the role of shame in the last few decades.

So I would add fear of not getting what we want or having something taken away is also complemented by shame-based fears of being rejected.

For example there is an undercurrent in fear of things being taken away, of it being because we are not good enough, deserving enough, have failed in some way, which are shame based reactions.

In fact the Big Book gives me a good idea of the “sins” or “defects of character” I have when I have a resentment but does not explain why I have resentments in the first place.

It explains this as selfishness, self centredness… the root of all our troubles.

It does not, for me, clearly explain why we resort to these selfish, immature, emotional reactions or why we persist with resentments?

It does not explain the emotional immaturity at the heart of alcoholism,  this spiritual malady of inappropriate emotional response to the world around us?

Bill Wilson was struck himself, when he started working with other alcoholics, how much they were plagued constantly by various resentments. How they were haunted by memories of situations in the past, how they swirl around and pollute their minds in the present. How they could not let go of events in their past?

For me he was seeing the root of this spiritual malady, this emotional disease.

For me we engage futilely and distressingly in resentment because we have an inability to process and control our emotions, they overwhelm us and we often react by people pleasing (shame) or react via various defense mechanisms (also shame based).

Defense mechanisms are central to psycho-analytic thought – such as projection etc, the idea that we  expel “out of ourselves what we do not like about ourselves onto others.

Sometimes others expel the same negative emotions on to us. I have found this a fairly common trait among male alcoholics in recovery settings and meetings.

I was discussing this with a newcomer last week, how people who seek to “put us down”  do so out of shame and induce in us all the negative emotions they are experiencing themselves!

The newcomer gave me an example of a resentment he was experiencing after this guy at a meeting said “get off your pink cloud” a phrase that refers to the sometimes  mildly ecstatic feelings of early recovery.

This made the newcomer ashamed that he could have been so stupid for being on this pink cloud, as if this was a selfish indulgence!?

I explained to him that his pride had been hurt, he was in shame and his “apparent” depression every since was simply prolonged self pity.

If we leave self pity to fester long enough it becomes depression, that is my experience anyway.

I said the other guy was probably “hurt” to see a newcomer having such a good period of recovery (God does want us to be happy, joyous and free after all) – I said his false pride was hurt too, that he was not having the recovery experience at present of the newcomer (possibly because he wasn’t putting the effort in) and was in shame (not good enough) and self pity. This mesh of negative emotions can link up fairly instantaneously I find.  It is the web my spiritual malady seeks to ensnare me in.

The guy was probably in guilt too as he could been working on his recovery more.

As a result this guy put the newcomer down to alleviate his own sense of self, his low self esteem.

He “had to” react with arrogance, dismissiveness, impatience and intolerance, because his shame, which is a fear based emotion, made him fearful of his own recovery and fear makes one strangely dishonest (at times deluded), This is my experience.

All because a newcomer had the temerity to be enjoying his recovery?

Not completely, this is half the answer.

The other part is that this guy, if an alcoholic like me, has real difficulties accessing in his heart and mind how he actually “feels” at any particular time. Or rather what emotions he is experiencing at any particular time.

This guy could have been experiencing guilt or shame for example.

Instead of saying to himself I am feeling guilt that my recovery is flabby  compared to this newcomer or that I am being an arrogant “know it all”, putting this newcomer in his place because  he had been in recovery longer – although being in recovery and being sober are different things I have found.

Either way, if he could perhaps of had the ability to say this is how exactly I am feeling he could have acted on this emotional information rather than reacted to it.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if I was feeling guilty about this newcomer it would cause a disturbance in me because I have difficulties processing my emotions.

It would have turned up therefore as a resentment of someone having something I do not have and as them taking away the illusion that my recovery was going OK?

I would have found this threatening to my sense of self so I would have reacted via defense mechanisms. I would have strangely blamed this person for making me feel the way I did! Even if this person had no such intention of hurting my feelings I would blame him nonetheless via my defensive reactions.

It is as if my emotional well being is dependent on other people and their behaviours, this is my spiritual malady, my emotional disease.

As I would have had a resentment, it would have had a wolf pack of negative emotions attached.

In this instance I might have have acted differently.

If I had been in God I would have been more sane for a start and had more loving tolerance for a newcomer.

I would have been acting not reacting. I would have had empathy for where the newcomer  “was at in his recovery” as I had been there once too.

This love and tolerance for the newcomer evolves the displaying of virtues (the opposite of defects are virtues).

What virtues? Well as the newcomer was relatively new I would attempted to be patient, empathetic, kind, gentle, tolerant, considerate  etc. These prevent the defects occurring I find.

If we practice virtues instead of defects then the brain changes for the better and we recover quicker. Our positive loving, healthy behaviours change us and our brains via neuroplasticity for the better.

Attempting to live according to God’s Will (which is a state of Love) also helps me not react but to act with Grace.

In Grace we can still experience negative emotions but God allows us to see them for what they are and not react. His Grace takes the distress out of thee negative emotions. This is my experience.

This allows me to do a quick inventory of my negative emotions and a prayer to God to have them removed. My experience is that they are always removed and that we are immediately restored to sanity.

I do not necessarily have to react to my feelings of negativity about myself, someone else does not need to experience the consequence of my resentments.

I can manage my spiritual malady or emotional dysfunction, I have the tools to do so.

I also impressed upon the newcomer that what the other guy was experiencing and was reacting is also how he, the newcomer, reacts and how I react too.

It is what our spiritual malady looks like I believe, it is the map of my impaired emotional responding.

I also impressed upon him that mostly I can manage this emotional dysfunction but often I fail to and get into a resentful anger.

This is why I have to forgive the other guy as I have been forgiven but also to forgive myself (or ask God to forgive me my shortcomings) for my reactions.

We are not perfect, far from it. We are far from being Saints but have a solution Saints would approve and achieve a kind of transient sanctity in this 12 step solution of letting go and letting God.

We have to show love and tolerance for each other as we suffer the same illness/malady. Dismissing others like us for having what we have and acting as we do is like a form of self loathing. We have to forgive ourselves and each other for being ill. Self compassion allows us to be compassionate  towards others.

Also we need to be aware what we project on to other alcoholics is the same thing as they project on to use and sometimes we project if back.

So we have two main ailments, distressed based wanting which results in the same negative emotions as being in a shame- based fear of rejection.

I can get out of the distress of wanting/needing stuff by asking God to remove those negative emotions which block me off from Him.

For example, if I really want something and feel someone is preventing me getting that thing or that they are taking this thing away from me I have a hunting pack of negative emotions running through by heart and pulsating through my veins, propelling me to want that thing even more! As if my very life depended on it?

These feelings are translated as “how dare you take that thing/stop me getting that thing” – False Pride – followed by fear of being rejected – Shame (this is because I am not good enough)  and possible Guilt (for something I must have done wrong as usual) – then leading to “poor me” and feelings of Self pity, all because I am in Self, so I am being Self Centred and not considering someone else’s view so I am Selfish.

I retaliate via by “I”ll show you/I’ll get you” emotions of Dismissiveness, Intolerance, Arrogance and Impatience – my “I’ll put you down to make me feel better!”

All because I am fearful that you are taking away something from me or rejecting  me –  Fear and Fear is always accompanied by dishonesty.

I will act out on these somethings, if I do now use my spiritual tools and let Go and Let God, usually by eating too much, Gluttony, having a shopping spree, Greed, engaging  sexual fantasy/activity Lust of “freezing” through fear in the subltle sin of Sloth (procrastination).

A perceived slight or a rejection can have an incredible emotional effect on me

This is all emotion dysfunction and immaturity. I have resentments because they are a true sign of emotion dysfunction.

The mature way to to access, identfiy and label how one is feeling and use this information to reasonably express how one is feeling. This way we do not retaliate, fight, flee or freeze. Instead our emotions do what they are supposed to do. They are suppose the tell the fronts of our brains to find words for our feelings. Not to tell the bottom of our brains to fight back or run or freeze.

Let me use an example.

I had an argument with a guy once who suddenly proclaimed he was upset by what I had said. I was amazed as this guy was reading his emotions, identifying verbalising/expressing them to me in a way I have never been able to do.

My alcoholism is rooted in an impaired ability to read, identify, label and express my emotions (otherwise called emotion processing) – as a result my emotions have always troubled me and been so troubling in their undifferentiated state that I have always either avoided them or ran away from them.

I have sought refuge from my negative emotions in alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviours. It is this that propelled my addictions, this inability to deal with my negative emotions. I dealt with them externally via addictive behaviours, not internally via emotion processing.

My emotions became wedded in time to being undifferentiated arousal states that prompted me to seek an external way to deal with these troubling emotional/arousal states.

Today when I engage in the above emotion dysfunction, engage in the above web of defense mechanisms it is because I have not been able to locate in me what feeling is disturbing me ?

On occasion it is, as the guy above said, because I am upset. I have not learnt the ability to say that I am upset etc. The words for these feeling states somehow can continue to elude me unless I am in God’s Grace.

God does for us what we can not do for ourselves!

Finding out what is really going on with us emotionally is at the heart of recovery. That is why we have to constantly share how we are feeling with others so that we can find out what we are feeling.

Unless, we let Go and Let God and ask God to remove these negative emotions/sins/defects of character we end up in a futile increasingly distressed spiral of negative emotions.

We end up cultivating much greater misery.

As soon as you can, let Go and Let God.

 

The Discordant Echoes of the Past

The last six years of research has been dedicated to trying to understand a fundamental part of my illness of addiction, of me.  People often say there is more to you than addiction.

To which I normally answer yes, there is also recovery.

I don’t mean to be smart arsed by this but I view recovery not only as a healing in many ways, physiologically, physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually but also as a ongoing process of learning about me, the various strands that have contributed to my illness and the various aspects of my recovery which also give insight into what was wrong in the first instance.

If certain aspects improve in recovery there is a fair chance these were impaired in the addiction cycle. I believe there is a lot more to addiction that the end product of addiction, namely chronic pathological addictive behaviour.

Various aspects have contributed to the need to externally manage troublesome and painful internal feeling states.

Recovery according to my wife has made me a nicer person, more loving and considerate and easier to live with. Better company,  more mature in my emotional reactions and more responsible. I hasten to add that I have some way to go still in some respects. In simple speak, I have become less selfish, self centred and less me, me me!

These to me seem like the traits of addiction, this self obsession.

Other factors have fed into this manifest self obsession too however.

Recovery has been a continual process of learning how to do life in a more healthy, emotionally mature way, in simple terms. I have had to learn so many things, the things  more healthy people take for granted and learnt years ago.

Somehow I never learnt how to do some basics, was never properly taught these basics or always had inherently difficulties with certain basic, developmental skills.

For example my emotional life was a complete failure, continually running away from my feelings, avoiding them as if they were actually injurious to the self!

I have spent years trying to work out why I ran away from my feelings and from a very early age. I have that type of curious head.

In early recovery I was astounded that I could not feel what emotions I was having, could not generate a mental perspective on what emotions I was experiencing, could  not identify and label and thus use as a way to make effective decisions. My decisions were always based on the “distress” of not knowing exactly what I was feeling, actions were taken simply to escape this distress.

I had in effect an emotional disorder and that this emotional disorder seemed to precede, initiate and propel by addictions.

Addictions were the place I went to in fleeing me and my negative emotions. They were the tools I used to regulate my negative moods, emotions and negative sense of self.

Me overwhelmed Me – I appeared to need help regulating Me so I chose and used stuff outside of me which seemed to work originally in provide escape but increasingly contributed to this escalating problem of my inability to live with me.

Someone described the spiritual awakening which results from doing the the 12 steps of AA as fundamentally changing how we think and feel about the world and our place in it!

So what do I think and feel about the world and my place in it?

And has this changed in recovery?

Generally I would say I have had a revolution in how I relate to the world, it no longer scares me like it did, I am no longer to ashamed take my rightful place in it.

That does not mean I no longer struggle with fear and shame. In fact the longer I am in recovery I see these two factors as contributing most of the distress I can feel in recovery.

Fear I have always been aware of – we have a fear-based illness it is often shared in AA meetings but shame?

Six years of academic research has clearly shown me that this fear based illness is a distress based disorder. Neuropsychology has shown that the experiential wisdom and insight of 12 step groups has always been correct.

Fear/distress causes me problems via certain avenues such as catastrophic thinking, fear of an uncertain future, distorted /dishonest thinking.

Fear can lead to a wide range of other negative emotions. But honesty is often the first port of call for fear.  I find fear leads immediately to distorted dishonest thinking. Honesty comes from the ancient Greek “to be in (one with) God” so I guess dishonesty is not being in God which is the opposite to being in fear. Interestingly the Christian Bible refers to the Devil as the Father of All Lies!

I had not however realise that shame creates just as many emotional difficulties and emotional pain as fear!

Shame and fear certainly effect each other but both can take the lead.

Fear is referred to in the Big Book of AA “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It is an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.” but shame is rarely mentioned!

This is not surprising as there was little research into the effects of shame of illness back then in the 1930s, in fact research into shame is relatively recent, in the last 25 years. Interest in shame came form an academic article which called shame the “master emotion!” which can effect and amplify all other negative emotions. Thus it has just a profound effect on emotional well being as fear!

I was delighted to come across this research recently as I have always been looking for answer to a vexing question, ever since early recovery in fact.

In early recovery, and since, I have always wondered when someone hurts my feelings, intentionally or otherwise,  I suddenly have this warm sensation, this spreading dendritic/branching type feeling in my heart which when activated captures my heart and pollutes my head with negative thoughts about me.

I suddenly feel hurt, upset, less than, smaller, weaker, hunched over, feeble, and then I get these other voices suggesting the person who upset me is right, I am worthless helpless, useless. Who the hell was I thinking I was, sure I was kidding myself?

I feel that I have been assailed, my head swoons, I lose my bearings. I am under some seemingly grievous emotional attack!

These feeling and thoughts multiply against the audio soundtrack of my tormenter’s voice which then blends into orchestra with my own and other voices of negative self perception.

I am suddenly strangely paralyzed by this emotional avalanche.

Other negative emotions are detonated such as self pity, the ever present sense of “poor me”.

Eventually other emotions may get activated too like fear and dishonest thinking.

I can work myself into quite a emotional state replaying the scene of my supposed insults via resentment and the re-sending of situations, feeling and thoughts from this and other previous episodes in my  life. Other negative mood congruent memory is activated and soon there are other similar memories of similar insults supporting this insult and my increasingly sense of low self esteem and self worth.

I found it impossible for years to stop this spreading emotional feeling and distorted thinking after it was first activated.  It simply continued  against my will. When activated it takes ages to reduce. In fact the intensity of the emotion always seems to get worse before any hope of it getting any better!

I usually need the help of a loved other to help me through it.

It feels as if there has been an emotion explosion in my heart?

One emotion explodes and it then detonates other emotions is the best way I can explain it.

These leads to increased negative thoughts about self and the reinforcing of a negative self schema ingrained in memory from childhood on.

It seems to confirm all the worse things about myself.

Chastises me for having thought any differently!

All because I took a slight at what someone may have said to me!

Often I have found out afterwards that I had misheard and misinterpreted the words and that no insult was intentionally given in the first instance!

My fear-based misinterpretation led to all these negative emotional reactions and cognitive distortions which all then ran away with themselves.

Now in recovery I feel that shame has just as profound an effect on my negative emotions as fear – in fact shame can lead to fear and vice versa. But to me now, it seems that shame is that negative emotion that detonates the other emotions that spread dendritically across my heart.

I have finally found out what has been at the heart of my emotion dysregulation –  shame.

Shame and fear also have similar parents – namely trauma /abuse, insecure attachment as a child to a primary caregiver.

Addiction doesn’t exactly help with shame either!

The trauma incidents I experienced in childhood have led to a fear based responding to the world and what I would call chronic or toxic shame.

A knawing feeling of being less than, not good enough.

An emotional achilles heel.

The above feeling of shame and the resultant negative emotions and thoughts that it detonates are the result of what is perceived  as insult and rejection. It is often said in recovery that the recovering person fears nothing more than rejection, as it brings that damning emotion of shame.

At least fear can activates action, shame always paralyses. Fear can embolden, shames weakens.

We sufferers of toxic shame thus very vulnerable to this type of “putting us down” or the feeling of being rejected or even “found out”.

We spend our lives constantly guarding against it, although we are often unconscious of this.

I sometimes wonder if the “hole in my soul” was shame-shaped?

This is why shame inspires the constant use of defense mechanisms, the myriad of self defence mechanisms that we use against shame, rejection and which I will discuss next time around.

As for the solution to the above perceived insult, pray for forgiveness or simply forgive the person who allegedly insulted you as it exonerates him/her of being a imperfect human being while doing the same thing for you at the same time.

Accept the gift of our communal and very human imperfection when you can.

 

 

 

Why?

This blog is written for alcoholics and those who love and live with them, by alcoholics in recovery.

 

For those who know what it is like to live with alcoholism but would also like to know why alcoholism affects the alcoholic and those around him in the way it does.

 

We write this blog to help us and you understand how the alcoholic brain works and why they sometimes do the things they do, why they act the way they do?

 

Why is it sometimes that everything is going great and suddenly the alcoholic in your life overreacts and acts in an emotionally immature way, which can often cause hurt to others around them?

 

Why do they suddenly cut off their emotions so profoundly it leaves your emotions in limbo, confused and upset.?

We hope to explain this disease state and behavioral disorder, which alcoholics themselves call an “emotional disease” , a “parasite that feeds on the emotions” or quite simply “a fear based illness”.

It appears that alcoholics in recovery are aware to a large extent of what they suffer from so why do they do what they do sometimes if they know what is going on? Are there times when they cannot help themselves?

Why do alcoholics, even in recovery, sometimes engage in endless  self defeating resentments?

Why do they project into future scenarios and then get emotionally paralyzed by doing so, get stuck in a cycle of catastrophic thinking?

Why do we run through the list of cognitive distortions on a daily basis?

This is not to condemn but to understand. Knowledge we believe is power. It aids understanding and compassion of another person’s suffering.

We as recovering alcoholics still, after several years of recovery, can still engage in such behaviours. We do not wish to hurt anyone, especially not our loved ones, but sometimes do.

We sometimes get wrapped up in ourselves and act in a selfish, immature and inconsiderate manner.

We need help with this, at times, distressing condition. That is what it is.

Distressing, based on a emotion and stress dysregulation, even in recovery, hence we have to manage it.

On a daily basis. It does not return to normal. To balance. To equilibrium. We have to take certain actions to restore emotional equilibrium.

Hence it can be hard work, hence we sometimes we come up short and emotionally overreact.

We have a distress based condition which has to be managed.

We also have to give ourselves a break, don’t distress ourselves further with perfectionist ideas of “should” – just do your best! That is usually good enough for most people. Why not us?

We are not saints, progress not perfection!

Or as progress not perfectionist!

Recovery changes the brains of alcoholics for the better.

As we are personally well aware, self knowledge does not bring recovery – only action does.

This action could be helping others, praying, meditating, going to meetings, talking to someone who knows what you are going through etc. Connecting with others, in the same boat as you.

It does work, if you work it. It removes the distress that feeds alcoholism and addiction.

The distress that makes us catastrophic thinkers, to having intolerance of uncertainty about the future, struggle with our emotional natures, etc

Recovery helps us deal with negative emotions and anxiety in a rational manner via the help of others.

We become different people in recovery. More considerate of others, more emotionally mature and emotionally sober.

We learn to deal with situations which used to baffle us! In dealing with these we deal with our alcoholism because we solve the problems that used to make us drink or use in the first place.

Distorted Thinking!!

We have a new page!!.

This page will look at the myriad of cognitive distortions and preservative (and deluded) thinking that appears to be part of the condition of many different addictive behaviours.

 

 

So far in this blog we have looked at how altered stress systems effect emotion processing and regulation and how this results in the increasingly compulsive need to use substances and behaviours to regulate subsequent negative emotions and affect.

Now we will be looking at the third strata of this disorder of addictive behaviour, that of distorted preservative thinking. Perseverative thinking is when someone gets an idea or thoughts in their head and just can’t get them out.

It is commonly shared in 12 step meeting show we have a problem with our thinking and hence our decision making. We find this to be true for us also.

Some addictive behaviours have their own specific cognitive distortions such as with gambling and eating disorders in addition to a more generalized pattern of cognitive distortions associated with all additive behaviours and psychopathology more generally.

Unlike those who feel cognitive distortions cause psychopathology we believe cognitive distortions are the consequence of impaired stress systems and emotion dysregulation which implicate a hyperactive amgydaloid region of the brain.

We feel that persistent negative and distorted thinking is the direct consequence and manifestation of stress and emotion dysregulation. It is how stress and emotion dysregulation manifests  in thought processes; these thought processes obviously worsen this stress and emotion dysregulation and vice versa.

In recovery by addressing either stress, negative affect or our distorted thinking we automatically deal with the other factors.  Hence distress is at the heart of our addictive behaviour.

If we reduce our distress we reduce stress reactivity, the effect of negative emotions and their manifest distorted thoughts.

Hence addictive behaviour is a three level ( tri strata) disorder of stress hyper reactivity, emotion dysregulation and distorted thoughts, all interconnectedly reactive.

 

 

In other words, the thinking of addicted individuals seems to be “fear-based” or distress prompted which leaves perception and reaction to it rather it distorted.

Along with these thoughts there is a reciprocal increase in stress chemical reactivity and increasingly impaired e motion regulation and processing of emotions.

Hence these unregulated negative emotions act with heigthen stress reactivity and spiraling distorted thinking to increase relapse vulnerability.

As a result we believe that distorted preservative thinking, thinking that persists and gets increasingly distorted,  is a part of the aetiology of addictive behaviour.

Equally we believe it is the consequence of a distress state activated by a hyperactive amgydala which increases stress reactivity, emotion dysregulation and then distorted thinking in a viscous circle.

We believe, based on our own research and experience of recovery that this is viscous circle is a common feature of all addictive behaviours.

 

Intolerance of Uncertainty and Distorted thinking About the Future

Another common area I feel addiction has with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is intolerance of uncertainty (IU).

In fact it is also associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)- there is actually a high co-morbidity  (at least around 40% comorbidity) with addiction and PTSD and it is one so-called co-morbidity that does not naturally dissipate like some others months into recovery such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression (the 14% rates of depression and GAD in recovery people are the same as for a normal population) but remains and often makes the symptomatic manifestations of addiction more severe, especially the tendency to engage in “fight or flight” reactions” to uncertainty and ambiguity.

I will blog more on this co-morbidity in later blogs.

The study we cite today in fact looks at IU in addicts who have suffered trauma (1).

Intolerance of uncertainty is a term that refers to a certain way in which some people perceive and respond to situations that are uncertain, and it has been found to be associated with the experience of PTSD symptoms.

Individuals who respond to uncertain or unpredictable situations in this way are considered to have an intolerance of uncertainty. People who are intolerant of uncertainty may begin to experience constant worry about what could happen in the future.

One study (1) demonstrated that negative emotion regulation strategy and intolerance of uncertainty can significantly explain the craving beliefs in addicts (especially those who have suffered a traumatic experience).

This result is consistent with that of Asadi Majareh, Abedini, Porsharifi and Nilkokar (2013) and Nasiri Shushi (2011).

Nasiri Shushi (2011) revealed that there is a significant difference among substance abuse and intolerance of ambiguity and tolerance of uncertainty in two groups of drug abusers.

The other results of this study showed that addicts have less tolerance of ambiguity and tolerance of uncertainty. In the implications of these results it should be expressed that tolerance of uncertainty is associated with cognitive features and addicts when they are faced with difficult situations act in very low levels of performance in terms of decision-making.

Studies carried out to investigate the characteristics of drug abusers suggest that they use substances to regulate a wide range of cognitive events. Undoubtedly unpleasant emotional states, particularly anxiety, depression and stress in addicts are associated with the cognitive consequences.”

The authors suggest that “Drug abusers are not able to tolerate the unpleasant situations and uncertainty in the stressful conditions and their sensitivity leads to mental and emotional problems, therefore, they more turn to substances to regulate their own cognitive experiences (Spada, Nikčević, Moneta, Wells, 2007).

The results of a study showed that individuals with lower tolerance to ambiguity find the ambiguous situations threatening… Many of them may find the substance use in the face of difficulties the only solution and therefore are not able to think or consider other solutions.”

“….While, those with high tolerance to ambiguity in face of unpleasant situation and uncertainty try to find a good solution to get rid of this condition as soon as possible…those with a low tolerance to ambiguity and uncertainty cannot find an appropriate solution…and consequently turn to undetected compromise strategies such as the use of the substance (Ahmadi-Tahoorsoltani and Najafy, 2012).”

I can relate to this study. As I still suffer from intolerance of uncertainty (IU) in recovery, and some years into recovery, it is safe to assume that I suffered form IU in addictive addiction also, if not more so?

For me dealing with an uncertain future can still provoke anxiety. In recovery groups, like AA, we often hear sensible suggestions such as do not “project into the future”, which basically means do not attempt to control future events by thinking about them because this is not only impossible but also anxiety inducing.

The main reason why I think me and other alcoholics cannot project into the future and reasonably reflect and deliberate possible outcomes is because we may have an intrinsic impairment in this regard.

We, or some of us, especially those who have suffered trauma in earlier years, may have IU, like OCD sufferers.

The number of times I rang my sponsor in early recovery to help me with projecting into the future was legion.

Having some one else to talk and share with helps us recruit the pre frontal part of the brain so that we can either see the sense in not not projecting into an unknown future or get help in reasoning through what is likely to occur then.

The difficulty I had and can still have is that my projection into the future is still negatively biased, it is still prompted by distress based cognitive distortions.

As we will see in later blogs these types of cognitive distortions proliferate across a wide range of addictive disorders such as eating disorders which we consider in our next blog.

Among this cognitive distortions is catastrophic thinking which is also distressed based. I will also blog on this at a later date. My head can still run away with itself and convince itself about something which is patently not the case. It can persuade me that this is person or that is doing this or that for these reasons. All of which on reflection are usually nonsense. For me this is like a type of delusion. It is a part of my condition that my head can trick me into believing a whole range of ideas that are delusional. Sometimes I realise this only weeks and months later.

And some people wonder why we turn our lives over to a power greater than ourselves!!?

All this distorted thinking is distressed based.

Which means there is chronically excessive stress chemicals like glucocorticoids being synthesized and whirling around one’s brain. If you give some one enough glucocorticoid there is a good chance they will end up in psychosis. In the 1950s glucocorticoids were used as an anti depressant until people started ending up in psychosis.

Ultimately when we engage in this negatively biased and distorted thinking we have potentially taken the first steps in a walk to relapse because that will eventually seem a whole lot better idea than psychosis?

These cognitive distortions (and there are many)  may even be at the heart of this condition of addictive behaviour.

They are also the consequence of an impaired ability to process emotions (and to avoid) them and thus regulate them. This leads to a tendency to fight or flight which only leads to an heightening of this anxiety, and an increased proliferation of distressing thoughts about future possiblilities, all of which can seem to become more and more catastrophic. How much these thoughts are specifically linked to trauma has to be further explored by research.

For me IU and thought action fusion, especially in early recovery caused as many problems as so-called defects of character. The only difficulty is that they are not mentioned in AA literature, or the Big Book. That does not mean that they do not exist simply because they were not discussed as psychological manifestations commonly known to alcoholics in the 1930s.

They are however known now, which is why I write this blog. To add to our sum of knowledge about this strange illness…

That is not to say having a reassuring sponsor and taking inventory cannot deal with these issues. It is useful however to be aware of them and to realise that not every one in recovery has suffered traumatic incidents. Those who have can have additional requirements in terms of recovery.

I always found it comforting to have a sponsor in the early days who was there and who could also relate to the trauma side of my alcoholism and addiction. It helped soothe me when I could not self soothe. Helped me realise I was not alone in this, that I could recover like this other trauma sufferer could. We can do stuff we can’t do alone.

Ultimately with such an impaired ability to see things reasonably and to make decisions rationally it is imperative to evoke a cardinal recovery rule for me, Accept, Let Go and Let God.

The most profound way to regulated emotions. To Let it Be.

I also used a thing I borrowed and rephrased from Jeffey Schwartz, a leading expert on OCD, how suggested OCD sufferers when in the grip of some obsession to say to themselves “It’s not me it’s my OCD”.

So if your head gets into a downward spiral over some event your head distorts into being and likely to happen in the dark, threatening, Gothic never never world of the future, say to your self “It’s not me it’s my illness.”

In the UK it is called the fanatic in the attic.

It does the thinking for you, if you allow it. Guaranteed.

 

References

Fizollahi, S., Abolghasemi, A., & Babazadeh, A. THE ROLE OF EMOTION REGULATION, DISSOCIATIVE EXPERIENCES AND INTOLERANCE OF UNCERTAINTY IN THE PREDICTION OF CRAVING BELIEFS IN DRUG ABUSERS WITH TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE.